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Friday, August 12, 2022

After more than two years of local and national advocacy, the Gainesville Loves Mountains organization has taken the next step in an attempt to end Gainesville Regional Utilities’ purchase of mountaintop-removal coal.

The organization proposed an ordinance to the Gainesville City Commission this month that would prohibit GRU from buying coal mined from mountaintops. Commissioner Thomas Hawkins is sponsoring the ordinance.

The purpose of mountaintop-removal coal, which uses less manpower to take resources from the tops of mountains only, is to cut jobs, said Jason Fults, co-founder of Gainesville Loves Mountains.

“It’s so they can replace miners with heavy equipment and explosives,” he said. “It’s a labor-saving device.”

GRU representatives could not be reached for comment. 

Fults said other effects on mountain communities can include explosions and contaminated water.

“The companies are going to these gorgeous Appalachian Mountains that are thousands of years old and a legacy for this country and literally digging them up,” Hawkins said.  “Cultures are built up around these areas, and it’s a negative consequence.”

Alhough Fults said GRU previously stated it would prefer to not use mountaintop coal, Gainesville Loves Mountains is focused on obtaining a document prohibiting the purchase and use altogether, he said.

“It’s their preference, but it’s not a strong preference,” he said about GRU. “If they need to hear it from the Gainesville City Commission, then that’s the route we have to take.”

Now that an ordinance has been proposed and an online petition has more than 390 signatures, Fults said he is confident Gainesville could be a model for other communities. 

The issue sat idle in the City Commission for the past two years, Fults said, and recently, drafting the ordinance took longer than expected. He said the organization hoped to pitch it to the city commission before the Spring semester ended because more students would be in town to lend support.  

For now, Hawkins said, a decision is pending local support from the public. 

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“It’s not a final decision yet,” Hawkins said. “Making that decision permanent would be the community saying, ‘We don’t want to use the electricity from this source anymore.’”

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